This article was originally published by Legaltech News.
In 2016, less than one-quarter of lawyers and only 2% of law firm partners were millennials. Fast forward a decade and that balance will flip, with 75% of the workplace falling into that category. On the one hand, such data points merely illustrate the circle of life. On the other, and with regard to corporate legal departments in particular, they foreshadow demands for cultural change.
While sweeping generalizations aren’t always useful, the 2019 MLA Millennial Report clearly highlighted the fact that many up-and-coming lawyers are dissatisfied with the status quo. Over half of survey respondents said they believe the legal industry is fundamentally broken, while 44% expressed the current generation of leadership “has outstayed their effectiveness.”
Corporate legal departments need to anticipate, listen to, and respond to millennials as they demand a different work environment in years to come. Keeping employees happy is crucial in any industry, but it’s especially important in demanding ones like law, where burnout is extremely common.
More specifically, corporate legal departments can support the workforce of the future by empowering their employees and prioritizing work-life balance—both of which are underpinned by improvements in legal technology. Here’s how.
1. Empower employees.
Millennials, by and large, want more control over their lives. They want to play an active role in creating and improving processes within the corporate legal department, as opposed to feeling like a pawn in a broken system. Implementing legal tech that facilitates flexibility and efficiency are great ways to empower employees. Meanwhile, bringing lawyers into the implementation process takes empowerment to the next level.
Legal tech that supports the workplace of the future will have a relative advantage over current processes, can be implemented with little to no disruption to routine tasks, and can be tried without significant risk if the implementation fails. These may seem like considerations for IT, but in reality, they have a huge impact on culture—particularly for the next generation.
2. Prioritize work-life balance.
Speaking of control, millennial lawyers want to be compensated for outcomes—not just for hours worked. Yet billable hours remain the standard for countless corporate legal departments and account for 70% to 80% of all law firm revenue.
For millennials, timesheets represent tremendous stressors. The MLA Report found that this generation ranks well-being as their top priority; 75% of respondents said they would give up compensation if it meant fewer billable hours and a more flexible schedule.
Indeed, a survey of Australian lawyers, published in Psychiatry, Psychology and Law in 2013, found that the lawyers who billed the highest number of hours had the worst psychological issues. Additionally, focusing on outcomes as opposed to hours further incentivizes employees to improve processes with an eye towards efficiency, offering even more empowerment.
3. Offer consumer-grade technology.
Countless advances in legal technology—from e-billing and automation to tools offering streamlined data-driven decision-making—can help improve efficiency and empowerment dramatically. In the workplace of the future, the increased use of data, analytics and legal project management will be non-negotiable.
But it’s important to realize that tech can also add friction if it’s not well-made. Millennials especially expect their tech and processes to be consumer-grade. They’re digital natives and are accustomed to ease-of-use. Their more mature colleagues may be just as digitally savvy, but they also possess a patience for technology that is still clunky. They remember what it was like before the tech was introduced and therefore see even cumbersome tech as better than nothing. With millennials, on the other hand, there is little tolerance or room for error.
Of course, technology will continue to evolve as the workplace does. Thus, creating an atmosphere that is open to change and receptive to new technology is arguably the foundation for corporate legal departments of the future. Millennials have different expectations for work than their predecessors and, as they become a majority of lawyers, will not hesitate to demand change.
Corporate legal departments cannot resist this evolution. They should already be taking the pulse of current millennial employees with an eye toward the future and should be considering what technology can help promote the empowerment and work-life balance millennials are already beginning to demand.